An intellect with a passion for learning, discussing and teaching
Students and colleagues remember the humility of Roddam Narasimha and his passion for science
Roddam Narasimha (July 20, 1933 – December 14, 2020), who passed away on Monday at the age of 87, was a towering figure in the field of aerospace engineering. But it was his humility and passion for science and teaching that his students and colleagues remember.
He remained active and involved in academics and took special lectures for research students until four years ago. K.R. Sreenivas, Chairman of Engineering Mechanics Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), who attended Dr. Narasimha’s classes and later worked as his colleague, described him as a very “passionate teacher” whose classes would often involve lengthy discussions. “He was someone who would help his students understand, encourage them to engage in a debate, and have a dialogue,” he said.
When he was director of NAL in 1992-1993, he would teach at IISc. after he finished his work at NAL. “He would hold classes that were not scheduled on the timetable,” Dr. Sreenivas added.
Students said he always made the time to have lunch with them where they would discuss a wide range of topics from philosophy to India’s defence strategy and space research. Even the briefest of interactions would inspire his students.
Rama Govindarajan, a professor at ICTS-TIFR who did her Ph.D. with Roddam Narasimha when he was the Director of NAL, recalled, “He was so busy then that I only met him on five-minute rides from NAL to the airport, when he left town. Every one of these meetings propelled me closer to my Ph.D.”
Dr. Narasimha was greatly instrumental in fostering the large data sciences initiative at International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS-TIFR) in Bengaluru, which includes various areas of the earth sciences. “This has crystallised into a very important group that studies the mathematical foundations of the Indian monsoon,” said Spenta Wadia, the founding Director of ICTS-TIFR.
From 2013, he was a member of the International Advisory Board of ICTS. “He was at the forefront of the effort to establish the ‘IndiaLight’ project for large data connectivity for big data science in India, which, however, did not materialise due to lack of government funding” said Prof. Wadia.
H.S. Sudhira, Director at Gubbi Labs, who is a volunteer at India Literacy Project (ILP), recalled Dr. Narasimha’s belief in science as a tool for development. “He contributed financially for the development of science kits by ILP. At one time, he had even approached the then BBMP Commissioner to talk about the problems faced by residents due to commercialisation of New BEL Road,” he said, adding that never once did the renowned scientist and Padma Vibhushan awardee drop names to intimidate people.
In the recent past, the Principal Scientific Advisor’s office and NITI Aayog proposed the Science and Technology Cluster initiative. The idea was for academic institutions, government labs, private companies and the government to come together to solve scientific problems of societal impact. Dr. Narasimha was very interested in participating in the Bangalore Science and Technology (BeST) cluster.
The BeST Cluster has proposed as one of its themes the design and manufacture of turbo fan jet engines in India as an aspirational engineering challenge that needs to be undertaken.
According to Dr. Wadia, he reiterated his support for the initiative in an email. “He wrote to me on September 20, saying, ‘I am interested in BeST, but I won’t be available on Tuesday. I will be in a hospital…’.”